Where a Nissan Leaf Costs Over $50K

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Nissan Europe / Associated Press

Even when the national average for gas neared $4 per gallon, very few American drivers were opting for electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, largely because of the limited mileage range (100 miles max before requiring a recharge) and high sticker prices. Unlike the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, which has experienced a sales boost in recent months, Leaf sales have continued to struggle in the U.S., declining 55% in May of 2012 compared to the previous year. That’s with the Leaf costing around $35,000, before incentives are factored in. Just imagine how poorly Leafs would be selling if the car cost over $50,000.

Well, we’ll all have a chance to see how the Leaf sells at such a lofty sum—in Australia. As of mid-June, the Leaf is on sale at more than a dozen car dealerships Down Under, and the base price is AUD$51,500, the equivalent of around $52,000 in U.S. currency.

Cars are generally more expensive in Australia—a new Toyota Camry starts at over $30K, compared to about $22,000 in the U.S.—but the premium being charged for Nissan’s electric commuter car is exceptional. Even more egregiously, the all-electric Mitsubish i costs close to $50,000 in Australia, and as little as $21,625 in the U.S..

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That price includes tax savings and incentives provided to buyers opting for electric cars. Australia is generally considered an environmentally conscious country, but it has no such incentives to decrease fuel consumption. The Autoblog reports that in January 2011, Australia canceled a green rebate provision for new car purchases because it cost the government too much money. Prices are also higher in Australia for all cars because of high shipping expenses—Australia is an island, of course—and because sales tax is included in the sticker price.

Not only are electric cars prohibitively expensive in Australia, but Australians will also soon be paying more for electricity. Starting July 1, residents will face a carbon tax that hikes the cost of electricity by 10%. For potential electric car owners, this obviously means it’ll cost more to recharge their vehicles, negating some of the savings reaped by avoiding vehicles the run on gasoline or diesel.

Even before the Leaf hit the Australian market, Nissan has said it’s been working on an aggressive plan to cut the EV’s price over the next few years. To do so, Nissan will have to sell plenty of Leafs globally, so that it can make more and bring production costs down. The funny thing is that by telling consumers the world over that prices will decrease dramatically in the years to come, it’s giving them a clear-cut reason to avoid buying the Leaf right now—thereby hurting Nissan’s chances of bringing the Leaf’s production costs (and retail price) down.

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Even with underwhelming sales numbers in the U.S., Nissan is banking on the idea that more American drivers will embrace the Leaf. A new plant in Tennessee will start producing the Leaf in December, Bloomberg reports, and Leaf sales, once limited to a handful of states, will expand nationally.

It’s unclear whether or not the Leaf will one day become cheaper in the U.S., though. Last summer, the base price of the Leaf actually increased by over $2,000 in the U.S.

For those who complain about how expensive it is to drive in the U.S., it’s interesting to note that compared to Australia and much of the world, cars, as well as gasoline, are much cheaper here in the States. A gallon of gas, currently averaging under $3.50 in the U.S., costs over $5 in Australia and over $9 in Norway.

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Then there’s Singapore. In order to reduce pollution and traffic on the island nation, the government offers a limited number of driving permits only by auction. Anyone hoping to drive better be rich: Recently, permits that guarantee the right to own a vehicle for 10 years in Singapore have been selling for over $80,000.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.